Are you safe? If you are experiencing domestic violence and you reside in Bethesda or elsewhere in Montgomery County, there are resources for immediate assistance. If this is an emergency call 911 or 240-773-5050.
It’s a terrible truth that our most intimate relationships can be the most dangerous, and the month of October is dedicated to Domestic Violence Awareness. When domestic violence is an issue in a relationship, there are some important aspects of Maryland law intended to provide immediate and long-term protection to the victim.
What is Domestic Violence?
Maryland family law defines domestic violence to include acts such as causing serious bodily harm, assault, placing victim in fear of imminent serious bodily harm, rape, false imprisonment (kidnapping), stalking or child abuse. For a victim to be able to get relief from these acts, they must have certain specific types of relationships to the abuser, which include being a current or former spouse, a co-parent, or a relative by blood, marriage or adoption. Step-children also qualify if they have lived with the abuser at least 90 days in the prior year. Maryland law does not limit its definition of domestic violence based on gender, and it includes abuse in a same-sex couple relationship.
Domestic Violence as a basis for divorce
Maryland family law provides numerous grounds for divorce. While the most common is a no-fault divorce, which requires a one-year separation, when domestic violence has been demonstrated, it creates a basis for a fault-based limited divorce for “cruelty or excessively vicious conduct.” What this means is that the parties will receive a court order resolving various issues concerning support, custody, interim allocation and possession of assets, and other short-term matters for a specified period of time, after which an absolute divorce can be granted.
Protecting Yourself and Proving Domestic Violence
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you should consider taking the immediate step of obtaining a court order called a Protective Order, which can provide protection and support while you explore your options. There are two phases to protective orders. The first, a temporary protective order can be obtained immediately, 24/7, and its purpose is to keep the abuser away from you and your children. Importantly, these orders can award temporary custody of the children and give you exclusive rights to the family home. The next phase is a Final Protective Order, which is issued following a hearing. This order provides for issues like awarding interim support payments, setting visitation and other protective measures. Maryland Courts will accept the Final Protective Order as evidence for granting a limited divorce.
The steps to protect yourself and obtain a divorce when there is domestic violence are sequential and build on each other to provide safety and security for the victims of an abuser. If domestic violence is occurring in your relationship, you should consult with a family law attorney as soon as possible to take steps to end the abuse, protect your family, and provide for your future.